Hebrews 12: Pioneer and Perfecter of Faith

Posted: March 4, 2012 in New Testament
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The Text and Translation

1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also throw off[1] every weight and the sin which so easily entangles[2] us, and let us run with patient perseverance[3] the embattled race[4] that is set[5] before us,

2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer[6] and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, disregarding[7] the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your[8] blood in your striving against sin;

5 and you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons,[9]
“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,
NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;
      6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES[10] EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”

7 Endure hardship as discipline;[11] God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live!?

10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.

11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness[12].

12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees[13] that are feeble,

13 and make straight paths for your[14] feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint[15], but rather be healed.

14 Pursue peace with everyone,[16] and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.

15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and through it many become defiled;

16 that there be no immoral[17] or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.

17 For[18] you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

18 You have not come to a mountain[19] that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind,

19 and to the blast of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg[20] that no further word be spoken to them.

20 Because they could not bear the command, “IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED.”

21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels in joyful gathering,[21]

23 to the assembly[22] and church of the firstborn who are enrolled[23] in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,

24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

25 See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking.  For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven!

26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.”

27 This expression, “Yet once more,” indicates the removing of those things which can be shaken – that is, created things – so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.[24]

28 Therefore, since we are receiving[25] a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;

29 for our God is a consuming fire.

The Literary Context, Structure, and Composition

The literary separation that occurs due to the chapter numbers is a serious problem.  Hebrews was designed to be read aloud to a group of believers, not to individuals.  As such, the entire letter would have been read as a “sermon” in which there would have been no linguistic separation of the text.  Furthermore, the author of Hebrews uses a circular form of rhetoric in which he constantly returns to themes previously used.  As such, it is necessary to keep the totality of the literary unit together in order to completely understand it in its complexity.

Therefore, Hebrews 12 is not a literary unit that stands by itself, as maybe a Psalm might.  Rather, Hebrews 12 is a continuation of chapter 11, as indicated by “therefore” in verse 1.  Chapter 11 is the backdrop and foundation for the whole of chapter 12.  As is typical for this author, he begins by reciting stories and passages from the Old Testament.

Chapter 11 is often given the titles, such as: “The Hall of Faith.”  The narrative details the lives of heroes of the faith who followed God’s call despite not being able to see the end prize.  The result of their faith was right-relatedness to God.  Chapter 12 picks up this theme of sojourners who have been called but do not yet see the “Promised Land”, so to speak.  This chapter serves as an exhortation that is built upon the preceding materials, urging the audience on to “endur[e] the race.”

Chapter 13, again, is not truly separated out from chapter 12.  Rather, this chapter serves as the final exhortation for the author’s audience.  And, our author really begins to state very specifically final instructions for what their lives should look like.  However, he does not expect them, as he has been trying to say, to accomplish this in and of themselves but rather through the high priesthood of Jesus.  Dennis Hamm states, “That this doing of God’s will is not some ‘Pelagian’ work on the part of Christians but the graceful working of both Father and Son in Christians is caught fully in the final blessing of the letter.”[26]

So, as we can see, chapter 12 is intimately connected with its surrounding passages.  In fact, each succeeding chapter of Hebrews can be seen as building blocks which cannot stand apart from the foundation laid in each of the previous sections.  The result is a literary work that is interconnected and immensely rich in depth.  In interpreting the book of Hebrews, we must take care to understand the internal language employed so that our preaching and teaching is consistent with the author’s entire content.

Hebrews 12 serves, I believe, as the pinnacle and apex of the entire book.  Within this particular chapter, all of the preceding materials are brought together to bear upon the audience’s context, serving as a final exhortation.  Much as a sermon has its final drive and purpose toward the end of the message, chapter 12 serves a similar purpose.  This passage also contains the final warning of five strewn throughout the body of Hebrews.  As such, the main purpose of this passage is an “exhortation to faith and diligence, a call to persevere based on Old Testament witnesses (11:1-40) and Jesus’ example (12:2-3).

The pericope that was selected was taken from most traditional structures of the New Testament text in which chapters and verses segment the text.  The purpose for such a selection was to keep it manageable in size.  However, problems arise with interpretation since this segment was meant to be understood within the context of the larger whole of Hebrews.  Despite this fact, I believe enough thematic material can be drawn from the surrounding passages to help contextualize my pericope.

To further delineate the passage, an outline has been structured.

  1. “Witnesses and Running the Race” (12:1)
    1. Great cloud of witnesses surrounding us (v. 1)
    2. Throw off every weight and the sin which so easily entangles (v. 1)
    3. Run with patient perseverance. (v. 1)
    4. Run the embattled race that is set before us. (v. 1)
  2. “Author and Perfecter of Faith” (v. 2)
    1. Fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (v. 2)
    2. Who for the joy set before him (v. 2)
    3. Endured the cross (v. 2)
    4. Disregarding the shame (v. 2)
    5. And has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (v. 2)
  3. “Jesus as Model for Faithful Endurance” (v. 3)
    1. Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself  (v. 3)
    2. So that you will not grow weary and lose heart (v. 3)
  4. “Suffering as Discipline” (12:4-11)
    1. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin (v. 4)
    2. You have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons (v. 5)
    3. MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD (v. 5)
    4. NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM (v. 5)
    5. FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES (v. 6)
    6. AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES (v. 6)
    7. Endure hardship as discipline (v. 7)
    8. God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (v. 7)
    9. But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons (v. 8)
    10. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live!? (v. 9)
    11. For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness (v. 10)
    12. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful (v. 11)
    13. yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (v. 11)
  5. Enduring Suffering Together and the Anti-type of Esau (12:12-17)
    1. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble (v. 12)
    2. And make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed (v. 13)
    3. Pursue peace with everyone, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (v. 14)
    4. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and through it many be defiled (v.15)
    5. That there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal (v.16)
  1. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears (v. 17)
  2. Mount Sinai and Mount Zion (12: 18-24)
    1. For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched (v. 18)

i.      to a blazing fire (v. 18)

ii.      to darkness and gloom and whirlwind (v.18)

iii.      and to the blast of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further word be spoken to them (v. 19)

  1. Because they could not bear the command, “IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTIN, IT WILL BE STONED” (v. 20)
  2. And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling” (v. 21)
  3. But you have come to Mount Zion (v. 22)

i.      to the city of the living God (v. 22)

ii.       the heavenly Jerusalem (v. 22)

iii.      to myriads of angels in joyful gathering (v. 22)

iv.      to the assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (v. 23)

v.      to God, the Judge of all (v. 23)

vi.      to the spirits of the righteous made perfect (v. 23)

vii.      to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant (v. 24)

viii.      to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel (v. 24)

  1. The Unshaken Kingdom (12:25-29)
    1. See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking (v. 25)
    2. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven! (v. 25)
    3. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN” (v. 26)
    4. This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken – that is, created things (v. 27)
    5. So that those things which cannot be shaken may remain (v. 27)
    6. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe (v. 28)
    7. For our God is a consuming fire (v. 29)

There are really two parts to Hebrews 12.  As has been consistent with our author, he begins with a word of exhortation followed by a stern warning.  Hebrews 12:1-24 are the encouragement and call for believers to persevere through hardship as discipline so that they might receive their eternal reward.  Hebrews 25-29 are the final warning of the book.  “All five warnings in the epistle have a positive thrust and a negative impetus.”[27]  Here, again, the audience is presented with the negative reality of disobedience and unfaithfulness.

Hebrews 12:1-2 is formed into chiastic form[28], as follows:

Therefore also we,

  • Having seated around us such a cloud of witnesses,
    • Setting aside every weight and clinging sin,
      • With patient endurance
        • Let us run the race that is set before us,
          • Keeping our eyes on the pioneer and perfecter of faith Jesus
          • Who for the joy that was set before him
          • Patiently endured a cross,
          • Despising the shame
          • And has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God

Hamm states that there are three things that should be kept in mind about this chiasm.  First, Jesus is at the center of the chiasm as the model and empowerment of faith.  Second, a parallel is drawn between Jesus and believers journeying through a “faith-race.”  Finally, the chiasm cannot be understood apart from chapter 11, but is seen as the “climax of the celebration of the exemplars of faith.”[29]

Hebrews 12 can also be seen sequentially as building upon itself with each line.  This is especially true in light of the chiasm which builds from chapter 10 and 11.  Thus, patient endurance is the thread that strings this passage together.  Hardship should be seen as God’s discipline of those He loves, His children.  Therefore, we must encourage and support one another on this journey so that all will be found to be faithful.  This leads us to the warning not to be like Esau who was short-sighted in selling his inheritance for temporary, temporal gain.  Finally, the passage climaxes with the visual imagery of Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.  The question that this elicits is: “Will you be found faithful and unshakable when the Judge returns?”  Rather, due to patient endurance, the audience can enter into acceptable worship before a mighty God.

There are several literary devices employed within our pericope that help carry the message and meaning along.  Each of these images has a specific purpose that helps facilitate visual and emotional images and responses from the audience.  There are several images used within the passage: a race, a father, Esau, Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.

The author of Hebrews has already equated his audience with the wilderness generation of Israelites.  They are sojourners called by God who must now persevere.  The wilderness generation is held as a negative example to follow because of their disobedience and lack of faithfulness.  Furthermore, the victor of racing received a crown (a wreath) as reward and symbol of their endurance to finish the race.  However, the ultimate reward to believers that endure such trials will receive an eternal reward, or kingdom, which shall never perish.  The connotation is that all good athletes must train and discipline their bodies in order to run well.  The same can be said of this band of Christians, who have not even resisted yet to the point of shedding their own blood in resisting sinfulness.  Christ, who has already finished the race, is the model and enabler to persevere.

The father imagery used by the author triggers in the memory of each listener circumstances of parental discipline utilized by a loving parent.  Discipline is often painful but temporary.  Ultimately, that discipline, we find, benefits us to live wisely.  God, who is omniscient and loving, uses discipline in His full knowledge and love to build us up as sons of God.  Meaning, to be disciplined by God is also to be called His own.  And, we know that the end product will be an unshakable kingdom in the presence of God through Jesus Christ.  The audience’s present suffering should be viewed as discipline by God to shape them into His children.

Esau, as the story recounts, sold his inheritance for quick and easy pleasure with no foresight into the future reward that was forfeited.  The implication is that the audience is under temptation to give up their heavenly inheritance for mere earthly, temporal pleasure.  What that pleasure is matters very little.  The principle remains that rejecting our inheritance can result in our losing out on our reward, no matter the future remorse.  This is stark warning again to be on guard and to persevere with faithful hope in the promises of God rather than the vain promises of present “reward”.

Mount Sinai and Mount Zion must be dealt with together because they are used as contrasts to one another.  Sinai represents the old covenant and the fear experienced by the wilderness generation at the voice of God.  Zion represents the new covenant and the heavenly, future-present kingdom of God that we are journeying towards.  Zion is not a connotation of fear but hopeful expectation.  Jesus has already entered that holiest of sanctuaries into the very presence of God.  And, now, these listeners are beckoned to enter boldly into the presence of God through Jesus.  No longer is this a relationship fearful of judgment.  Rather, it is a newfound hope of entering into the very rest of God as sons and heirs.

The literary genre of Hebrews has traditionally been described as a letter.  Although the work does not have a typical introduction of a letter, it does have a similar ending as many letters.  However, the best clue for the literary genre actually comes from our author who appeals to his audience to “bear with my word of exhortation.”  The structure of the text throughout is one of exhortation and warning which plays out like a sermon or Jewish midrash.  Furthermore, this text would have been read out loud in the assembly of the believers, which would affirm an oratory aspect.  From these facts, I believe we can best label this work as sermonic exhortation rather than letter.

The Historical Context

            The historical context of Hebrews is difficult to ascertain due to the fact that it is not written as a typical epistle.  A specific audience is never addressed, authorship is never attributed in the letter, nor is a place of authorship given within the text making the historical dating of this passage difficult at best… although much has been speculated about each of these areas.  Despite these setbacks, there are some things which we can garner about the setting, date, author, and audience from the text of Hebrews.

Setting

            As with so much of the historical data pertaining to Hebrews, we are left with no explicit indication by the author as to locale in which he or the audience reside.  Of course, as with much of the historical data, this has left theologians and historians a daunting task.  Despite this reality, several attempts at reconstructing the setting, from “Judea in the east and Spain in the west”, have met with little success.

“The common opinion of ancient commentators, defended by many moderns, is that the addressees were situated in Palestine generally or, more specifically, in Jerusalem.  The major alternative, first proposed by J. J. Wettstein and adopted by many scholars since then, is Rome…”[30]  We will consider these two positions first and mention a few other possibilities along the way.

Jerusalem has several advocates due to its internal language.  The emphasis on the sacrificial system would seem appropriate, especially if it had been experienced by the audience.  Even if the setting is not directly Jerusalem, the audience could have been prior acquainted with Jerusalem before fleeing after the death of Stephen.[31]  Despite these problems, several possibilities to account for these differences have been set forward.

Sir William Ramsay, for example, hazarded the guess that it was written to the Jerusalem church from Caesarea during Paul’s imprisonment in that city (A.D. 57-59) by one of his companions… C. H. Turner argued that it was sent to the Jerusalem church shortly before the outbreak of the war against Rome in A.D. 66…Arnold Ehrhardt revived the theory of Franz Overbeck that the epistle was sent as ‘a message of consolation from the Church at

Rome to Christians in the Holy Land after the fall of Jerusalem.[32]

However, several problems arise from the text of Hebrews with this assessment.  First, if it was written in response to the Temple’s destruction or afterwards, it would make sense for it to be mentioned in the text.  Secondly, it is suggested that Jerusalem was typically “more prominent as a recipient than as a giver of such ministry.”[33]

Rome is also a prospect for the setting.  One major reason this is believed to be the setting is that the text first “appears to have been known [in] Rome.”[34]  Secondly, the text sends greetings from “’those from Italy’ (13:24).”[35]  However, this statement might not mean that the author was writing from Rome.  It could be inferred that the greeters were simply Italians, whether displaced, living in Rome, or living outside Rome.  Therefore, this is hardly conclusive evidence.[36]

Another theory by Adolf Harnack viewed the letter written to a “’house church’” in Rome.[37]

Later William Manson presented a persuasive case… The Roman church, he inferred from Rom. 11:13, 18, had a Jewish-Christian base.  As a whole it had accepted the implications of the Gentile world-mission, but a small conservative enclave within it clung to the more conservative principles of traditional Judaism, and to this enclave in particular Hebrews is addressed.  Professor Manson found a straight line running from

the ministry of Stephen… to the argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews.[38]

Yet again, however, we are left with many questions unanswered and no definite location for the author or recipients.

Although there are many other believed places of origin and destination for this letter, there is really only one that has been given substantial merit: Alexandria.  The tone of the letter and the use of rhetorical features within the text suggest some Alexandrian influence.  The author is familiar with the “literature of Alexandrian Judaism, like Wisdom and 4 Maccabees, and especially the writings of Philo”, although this last statement has been contested.[39]  Again, however, this fact merely points to the author’s association with the city, not the audience’s.

In determining the validity of Alexandrian destination for the epistle, there is a major predicament with the conjecture.  “That is that precisely in Alexandria the belief in its Pauline authorship first arose, and it is difficult to suppose that the Christians of the city to which the epistle was sent so quickly forgot who sent it to them and ascribed it to another.”[40]  As we shall see soon, denial of Pauline authorship plays a major role for the unlikelihood that Alexandria was the letter’s destination.  Thus, we are left with many possibilities but no definite locations.

Dating

In looking at this text, it is impossible to set specific dates for when this was written.  However, we must maintain an early dating for the following reasons:

A first century date is required by the external evidence (the near-quotation of the epistle by Clement of Rome c. A.D. 96) and by the internal evidence, according to which the author and, probably, his readers came to know the gospel from people who themselves had listened to the teaching of Jesus (2:3).  If Timothy, whose release is announced in 13:23, is (as seems likely) Paul’s junior colleague of that name, a date within his active lifetime is indicated… we do not know when Timothy was born… or when he died, this

does not help us to fix a more precise date.[41]

Most scholars maintain a date before the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70.  The main reasoning has to do with the internal language found in Hebrews.  Our author desires to show the futility and inability of the Levitical priesthood and its sacrificial system to enact forgiveness and restore humanity to right-relatedness with God.  Thus, the destruction of the Temple would have been applicable material to incorporate to further prove his point.  As it stands, the author speaks about the Levitical system as continuing but fading.  Also, there is the draw for the audience to revert back to that system, which would amount to apostasy and the forsaking of the new covenant enacted through the new priesthood of Jesus in the order of Melchizedek.[42]

Despite a date before A.D. 70, most scholars believe that the timetable for this work should not be placed far before the destruction of the Temple.  “All we can allege confidently is that the Epistle, from its contents, must have been written a considerable number of years after the community addressed had received the faith… Some time between A.D. 62 and 70 would very well suit the conditions.”[43]  Such a date would explain the discussion of the Levitical priesthood as still in existence and provide adequate historical basis for the suffering that this audience must endure.

Authorship

Scholarship today gives little credence to Pauline authorship of Hebrews due to its differing style and perspective, eloquent use of Greek, and theology.  In light of debate against Pauline authorship, several candidates have been posited as the potential candidates: Luke, Barnabas, Apollos, Clement of Rome, and Priscilla.[44]  Tracing the historical ascriptions and their reasoning will help us better understand the debate by covering the primary candidates proposed for authorship.

Early on the Church leaders ascribed Hebrews to the pen of Paul the apostle.  In organizing the canon a text was often given validity only if there were apostolic links, which made Paul, a prolific Christian writer and authority, a prime candidate for authorship of Hebrews.  Clement of Alexandria was the first known leader to make this assessment, reasoning that Paul had originally written the epistle in Hebrews and having it translated into Greek by Luke.[45]  “He seems to have been thought of… because of the purer Greek of the Epistle resembling his, and its containing words and phrases which are peculiar elsewhere to his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles; and… because of his close association with St. Paul.”[46]

“Origen, a generation later, knowing as he did Hebrew in addition to Greek, probably realized that the Greek of the epistle bore no signs of having been translated from Hebrew.”[47]  Moreover, the author seems to be a “second generation” witness, not one that had “encountered Jesus directly” as Paul claimed in other letters.  However, it is possible that the author had been shaped by Paul’s teachings.  Thus, both Lucan and Pauline authorship were strongly denied.

However, Origen went on to name Clement of Rome as a possible writer of Hebrews.  Clement would make a very good candidate “If there was at that time good reason to believe that the Epistle had been sent from Rome.”[48]  Clement had been associated with the apostle Paul and became the leader of the Roman Church after his execution.  And, is possible that this is the same Clement mentioned by Paul in Philippians 4:3, which would give further weight to the authorship argument.  “Further, the occurrence in Clement’s undoubted Epistle to the Corinthians of both ideas and language taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews, appears to have confirmed the supposition.”[49]  However, this in no way makes this assertion conclusive.  All that can be truly affirmed from this is that Clement was familiar with Hebrews and used it in his communications.  One would also expect such tradition to be held within the Roman Church, however, this is not the case.  Further, “… his own writing exhibits nothing of that powerful grasp, close reasoning, systematic arrangement, and eloquence of expression, which mark the Epistle.”[50]

Tertullian provides us with the only “positive ascription of authorship” from “the west… in the fourth century”: Barnabas.[51]  Barnabas was a Levite, which coincides with the emphasis of the Levitical priesthood in Hebrews.  And, he is also nicknamed “Son of Encouragement” in Acts 4:36 which echoes the “word of exhortation” found in Hebrews 13:22.[52]  However, this is circumstantial at best.

It was Jerome and Augustine who swayed opinion in the west toward accepting Hebrews as a Pauline epistle – not that they were convinced that it was so on grounds of literary criticism but rather because they were ‘moved’ (to quote Augustine) ‘by the prestige of

the eastern churches which include this epistle too among the canonical writings.[53]

“After Augustine the canonicity of Hebrews and its Pauline authorship remained pretty much undisputed during the next thousand years.”[54]  Thus, tradition held fast, for a time, that Hebrews had been authored by the apostle Paul, though probably translated by another person like Luke or Clement of Rome.

However, the Reformation brought major questioning to the theological and interpretive task.  Luther, a figurehead of the Reformation, dealt a serious blow to the belief of Pauline authorship due to his profound disgust with Hebrews, which had very little similarity with the writings of Luther’s beloved Paul.

For this reason, Luther posited that Apollos had actually penned the epistle-sermon.  Apollos is a valid candidate for several reasons.  “He was an eloquent man (Acts 18:24), and there is indeed eloquence in this epistle.”[55]  Furthermore, Apollos hailed from Alexandria, where “allegorical interpretation, which might be said to be akin to the method used in Hebrews, flourished (cf. Philo).”[56]  Apollos was also said to be very knowledgeable about Scripture (Acts 18:24), which is evident in the author’s creative use of Old Testament texts to illustrate his points.[57]  Once again, we are simply left with speculation.

Priscilla has also become an interesting candidate for authorship of Hebrews.  Priscilla was also acquainted with the apostle Paul in his journeys.  Both her and Aquila, her husband, were good teachers and instructed Apollos (Acts 18:26).[58]  The absence of a name would easily be explained by the negative connotation of a woman writing to instruct a group.  This would be a violation of cultural norms.  “The interest in the tabernacle would be natural in a family whose living came from tentmaking (Acts 18:3), and the outlook of a pilgrim would be natural to one who did so much traveling.”[59]  Both Aquila and Priscilla knew Timothy and hosted a “house church in Rome.”[60]  Finally, “… the transition back and forth between ‘we’ and ‘I’ would be suitable to a married couple.”[61]

Despite these compelling arguments, we are once again left with speculation.  For instance, the author was known by the audience, as is evident in the text.  Thus, the argument that a lack of claiming authorship validates Priscilla matters little if the author was already known within the community being addressed.  So, in my estimation, Priscilla as a potential author, although intriguing, holds little water in light of the Hebrews’ testimony.

There is much circumstantial evidence that might suggest or point to an author, but it is like grasping smoke.  So, with Origen we fittingly agree: “But as to who actually wrote the epistle, God knows the truth of the matter.”[62]

Audience

As indicated before, the particular audience in mind is never mentioned by name within the body of the text.  “The traditional title ‘To the Hebrews’ is first encountered toward the end of the second century.”[63]  Likely, this title is an addition by a scribe due to the message of the epistle.[64]  Furthermore, the original audience is definitely a Christian group, although debate has ensued as to whether these followers were Gentiles or Jews or some mixture of both.[65]  “The title ‘To the Hebrews’ is attested by Pantaenus… and in the West by Tertullian.  It is in the oldest MSS.”[66]

Hebrews is regularly and traditionally thought to target Jewish Christians who were very familiar with the Old Testament, midrash-like arguments, the heroes of the faith, covenant, tabernacle, and priesthood.  Furthermore, “Incidental references such as ‘surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendents’ (2:16) are more likely to appeal to Jews than Gentiles.  The argument that Jesus is superior to Moses (3:1ff.) would have more weight with Jews than with anyone else.”[67]

However, not everyone readily agrees with this assumption.  Some note the eloquent Greek employed, along with the fact that Christian Gentiles too would have been familiar with the Septuagint.  “But this argument is not relevant.  The Jews of the Diaspora were familiar with Greek; after all, the LXX had been written for them… Nor is the argument from the book’s use of the LXX decisive, for many Jews used this version instead of the Hebrew OT.”[68]  On the other hand:

…its appeal to Jewish cultic traditions or sophisticated exegetical arguments, do not necessarily indicate a Jewish-Christian audience.  Other Jewish-Christian authors, such as Paul, write to what are exclusively or predominantly Gentile communities, such as Galatia or Corinth, and argue with Jewish techniques and themes.[69]

Although this may be true, it does seem that a Jewish audience would be impacted on a greater level by such rigorous use of Old Testament stories, as well as, the Scriptures bearing greater authority of Truth.  Furthermore, the evidence for a Jewish-Christian audience seems likely, given the fact “They seem to have been hesitant about cutting themselves off decisively from the Jewish religion (which was tolerated by the Romans) in favor of the Christian way (which was not).[70]

Unfortunately, inferences as to the ethnic, socio-cultural composition of the community can not be attained with the information we currently have.  We can make educated guesses, but that is about the extent that scholars have advanced this quest.      

An important clue to the identity of the audience lies in the spiritual state that is indicated within the text.  According to Thomas G. Long:         

The congregation to which Hebrews is addressed is, quite simply, exhausted… tired of their religion, tired of trying to live the Christian life every day, tired of trying to follow Jesus in every aspect of their lives… they have begun to show the familiar symptoms recognizable by almost every congregation today: irregular attendance at worship and

inattention to deeds of Christian mercy (10:24-25).[71]

This Christian community had experienced resistance and persecution, though not martyrdom, due to their conversion to Christianity.  One could not compartmentalize their religious beliefs as one might today.  Being converted to another religion meant turning one’s back upon their familial, cultural values and systems, which often invited abuse from its adherents.  The result is a community in the crux of a decision, questioning the validity and practicality of their faith.[72]

The author compares the audience’s present trials to the wilderness generation’s trek of the Exodus.  The audience addressed too is on a journey, sojourners of faith who must be found faithful if they are to receive the eternal reward of promise: the rest of God and an unshaken kingdom.

However, there are some problems within the community that might seek to derail them from their heavenly calling, spoken by the Son with a superior word.  They have grown tired and are in danger of spiritual immaturity, rather than taking on the role of teaching others and deepening their own understanding.

In looking at the audience’s circumstances, we can see that this community is in dire need of re-commitment.  They have been a generous group, but they are on the verge of turning away from their commitments to God through Christ.  Apostasy lies in the future like a specter if they allow their weariness to overcome them.  It is with this in mind that we turn now to understand better the message of Hebrews 12 for the audience and ourselves.

Theological Communication of the Passage

It is a people of pilgrimage that are addressed in this literary work.  The author knows these people intimately, knows that they are journeying on a road of drudgery.  However, he can see that on this road they have become wearied and in danger of turning back from their destination.  The author is combating the probability of apostasy for this spiritually ragged group.  It is with this in mind that our author begins to assert the validity of faith and the superiority of Christ.

“He has determined that what his hearers need is not shame or gimmicks, but, astoundingly, better theology.  Their problem is not that they are bad people or spiritually lazy or not entertained enough by church life, but instead that their Christology is too shallow to inspire endurance; and the preacher of Hebrews sets out on a bold mission: to

deepen their understanding of the meaning of Jesus Christ.”[73]

As church leaders, this is an important point.  We will lead people that are close to apostasy.  They will be on the verge of turning away.  Our reaction should be measured as the author of Hebrews.  Perhaps, we should not berate them or rake them over the coals for failure to persevere.  Maybe the answer is a renewed call to endure and to teach and preach Christologically, so that as they deepen in their understanding they grow in their resolve.

There are several dominant themes that show up within the text: superiority; faith and faithfulness; son-ship; and rest.  We will look at the various themes and how they work together to compose this sermon.

Hebrews is often called a “superior book.”  It has wonderfully constructed Greek, beautiful and sometimes poetic language.  It is a well composed literary work.  Additionally, internally, the book strives to show the superiority of Jesus’ life and ministry over Moses and the many heroes of the faith.  Similarly, Jesus’ priesthood and one sacrifice are described as being over and above the Levitical priesthood and its sacrificial system.  Jesus is also said to have a superior word than that which was spoken to past generations.  Finally, the author wishes to assert the superiority of the life which this Christian community has embraced compared to the past covenant that was given to the people of God.

And, the people of God are those called sons of God.  This is a predominant theme which connects Christ as “Son” and believers as “sons.”

Julius Kӧgel in a very insightful, older study of 2:5-18 demonstrated how the continuous theme of the Son and the sons is woven into the very texture of the epistle.  The Son shared in flesh and blood (2:13), has suffered and been tempted, and can help those who are tempted to give up (2:18); and he himself grew through suffering (2:10)… Jesus

reveals what sonship is and mediates sonship to others (2:10).[74]

This “sonship” has an interesting link in chapter 12 with discipline.  As Christ is Son and has suffered, so our “sonship” is equated with suffering as well.  Suffering and sonship cannot be separated.  However, it is those very trials that are used as discipline that make us sons.  Again, Esau is the negative example of sonship, and, in fact, the total opposite of sonship.  Giving up his inheritance, he also excluded himself from such privilege as sonship and heir.  The warning is clear… do not follow Esau’s decisions!  Do not be immoral and godless and miss out on the promises of God!

It is because of this superior covenant and the superior example and word of the Son that this community is called to persevere.  As Jesus is compared to the figure of Moses, the audience is compared to the wilderness generation.  The wilderness generation serves a negative example of unfaithfulness and lack of perseverance.  Esau in chapter 12 also serves a similar function.  These negative types are contrasted with the faithful of chapter 11 and especially Jesus, who is the ultimate example of faithful perseverance.

Faith and faithfulness play integral parts within the composition of Hebrews.  Jesus is shown to not only to be faithful but to have faith.  In Hebrews 2:13, Jesus says, “I will trust in him”.  “This confession serves at least two functions in its immediate literary context, it underscores the shared faith of Jesus with his brothers and sisters in God; in a broader epistolary frame, it introduces the important leitmotif of faith or fidelity.”[75]

As the focus on Jesus continues, he is compared to Moses, who was a faithful servant in the household of God.  However, Jesus, as Son, was faithful over the house.  The position of the Son is superior to that of the servant, even though both are shown to be faithful.  Following along these same lines, chapter 11 introduces a line of witnesses throughout the Old Testament whose lives reflected faithful submission and obedience to God.  The apex, as we have seen, is found in the opening verses of chapter 12.

Hebrews 12:1-2 is formed into a chiasm, as is previously discussed in the literary section.  Within this particular pericope, Jesus is highlighted as the “pioneer and perfecter of faith.”  Chapter 11 is a narrative of the people of God, who are now likened as a “cloud of witnesses that begins the chiasm.  Thus, this chiasm is the apex of chapter 11.  More importantly, Jesus is the climax of this hall of faith which bore witness through a life of faithfulness which the audience is now commended to.

The “cloud of witnesses” parallels Jesus’ sitting at the “right hand of the throne of God.”  At the end of chapter 12, we see this very throne surrounded by a great throng in joyful exaltation.  Next, the audience’s “setting aside every weight and sin” is a sign is scorn or shame is echoed by Christ’s “despising the shame” of the cross.  Third, their “patient endurance” is shadowed by Christ’s “patiently endur[ing] a cross.”  Finally, the audience’s “run[ning] the race set before” them parallels Christ’s “joy set before him.”  Thus, the audience can see in every instance that Christ truly is the “pioneer and perfecter of faith” because he has gone before them in every way and is now enabling them to do the same!  Thus, they are called to look, focus, set their eyes upon Jesus who is the model and enabler of their faith!

The structure of the passage helps us to also understand the emphasis placed on various verses, as well as, informs us of the theological implications.  In looking at the first thirteen verses of chapter 12, we also see a chiasm formed within its structure.  Again, the point of emphasis will be “B” which is encased by exhortation before and after, which mirror each other.

The section falls naturally into three small units, 12:1-3, 4-11, 12-13.  The central paragraph clarifies the meaning and purpose of disciplinary sufferings in the life of the people of God.  It is framed by shorter paragraphs that develop a common metaphor, the running of a race to the appointed goal:

A         Exhortation to run with endurance (12:1-3)

B         The meaning of the sufferings to be endured (12:4-11)

A’        Exhortation to renewed commitment to complete the race (12:12-13)[76]

First, we see the author encourage his listeners to persevere.  Then, the bulk of this section is used to instruct upon the reason why we must endure suffering.  Finally, the explanation leads to a final exhortation to continue on.

Metaphor is also utilized with this chiasm in the case of exhortation through discipline.  The parental figure of an earthly father disciplining his child for that child’s benefit is equated with God’s allowing us to endure hardship.  Through trials and hardship we are “disciplined” and shaped into a very specific type of people.  That is, if we heed the warning that discipline gives us and we respectfully obey.

The negative example of Esau follows this section is a prime example not to follow.  He lacked discipline and was quick to give away his inheritance to take away his pain.  However, the inheritance could not be received back once it had been forfeited.  Heeding discipline as sons allows us to persevere and receive the inheritance that awaits us.

The imagery of Mount Sinai and Mount Zion are juxtaposed.  They stand contrasted, the old and the new covenant, as well as, a fearful dread of the presence of God compared to the boldness with which we can now approach the throne of grace through Jesus.  The old sacrificial system had failed and was merely a shadow of the true and superior covenant and word that was to come through the Son, Jesus.  The question for our audience might be: “Do you really want to go back to the cloud, gloom, storm and fear of the ineffectual old covenant?”  Certainly, the rhetorical question would be adamantly answered “no.”  Instead, the audience has come to the mountain of God, that holy city where the multitude of God’s people dwell in His promised rest.

Again, the purpose of the whole of chapter 12 can be found in the structure of the entire passage.  As we have seen, an initial exhortation and explanation is found in the earliest section of chapter 12.  The author then turns to his fifth and final warning at the end of chapter 12.  This serves to underline what is truly at stake for his audience.  In fact, in his opinion, the Christian faith does matter even if we cannot immediately see the outcome.  There is an inheritance at risk of forfeiture if we run but lack perseverance, spurn discipline, and are near-sighted

And, what, we might ask, is that inheritance?  It is the very rest that was promised to the wilderness generation, although they were not permitted to enter due to their hard hearts.  Our author also says that Joshua did not accomplish the rest of the Promise Land either.  Chapter 3 and 4 is spent working out these implications.

In 3:13 the author first suggests that the promise of entering God’s rest is still open… In chapter 4 the author returns to the force of ‘today’ and elaborates on what he assumes in 3:13.  In vv 4-8 he points out that ‘they,’ those who proved faithless in the wilderness, became the object of divine wrath, and therefore would not enter God’s rest.  To the author, however, this means only that ‘others’ were going to enter God’s rest, since God

offered another ‘today’ through David many years later.[77]

This rest is revisited in chapter 12 with the imagery of Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.  Mount Sinai represented the old covenant, as well as, the unfaithful, hard-hearted generation that roamed the wilderness for forty years.  Mount Zion, however, represents the Promise Land that provides true rest and where the faithful of God reside.  Thus, the audience stands on the brink of entering that city lest they weary and forfeit their inheritance like Esau.  This Promised Land, however, which is the city of God, is a rest far superior to that of the land of Canaan.  It is the very rest that God has enjoyed since Creation found in Genesis.  The Sabbath rest of God is a present-future reality… the audience is even now beginning to enter and to taste and to see that the Lord is good.  How much more will that be abundantly clear when they have finally crossed over into that  heavenly assembly?

Hebrews 12 shows a God of abundant grace.  God is also a mighty judge who will put asunder anything that does not reflect Himself.  He is the Creator by which everything is made, thus He is also Redeemer and Judge.  He uses trials to discipline us, making those things that might have caused us harm into the very instruments that mold us into His people.  For this reason, we are to worship God in reverence and awe.  It is not a fearful exchange, as at Mount Sinai.  Jesus is the faithful mediator who has entered into the rest of God.  He is both the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  He is the place where faith begins and the strength by which it endures.  And, by it we enter boldly into the throne-room, the holy of holies, and into God’s rest.

We are called to be faithful.  We are called to walk with perseverance, keeping our eyes upon Jesus.  We are not to be faithless and forsake our inheritance.  Moreover, God rewards those He finds to be faithful throughout the journey.  This is not some type of works’ righteousness.  Rather, it is because of the perseverance and obedience of the Son that we too are able to strive toward the finish line.  We are to have eyes of faith that see the future hope and promise and spiritual ears that heed the word given through the Son.  And, even now, we have come to the city of God, surrounded by the great throng of the faithful and the myriad of angels into a kingdom that is unshakeable.

Hermeneutics

            To capture the underlying message of Hebrews 12, let me use an illustration that would be more akin to our time and setting.

The Olympics were still years away when he would compete.  Sure, he had been a promising athlete in high school, but the Olympics were the goal… that hoped for destination.  Initially, in his early training, he had enjoyed working on the disciplines that were needed to be a great runner.  He practiced hard, worked diligently, and listened intently to his coaches’ instructions.  He knew then that the games were still some time off, but he was nevertheless zealous about the potential reality of glory laid out before him.  He knew it would all pay off in time.

However, there came a point in his training where the workouts had lost their appeal.  It was drudgery, plain and simple.  Long hours of painful work, toil, and sweat never seemed to end.  What was worse was that there seemed to be little or no progress.  It was frustrating, which made him question his desire to run in the games.  Was it all really worth it?  Were the long hours, and the painful aches following, really worth the effort?  Not to mention, the Olympics appeared no closer than they had a year ago.  They were still a lifetime away… and, he could be out enjoying other things!

He found himself going back and forth in his commitment to his regimen.  Running had ceased to be a joy, it was a chore.  On the other hand, he knew that running was what he was made to do.  When he first began running, something stirred inside every time he laced up those shoes and took off down the track.  What had happened to that love?  It seems it had grown cold… maybe beyond repair.

One evening he was talking with his dad about the predicament and his confusion over it.  His dad leaned back in his recliner as the young man looked questioningly back.  After a moment, his dad began to speak of some of the greatest runners that had graced the track.  The young man listened raptly at the tales of Jesse Owens, Steve Prefontaine, Carl Lewis, and many others who had inspired him to begin running.  The wise father also began to recount some of the obstacles that had beset their careers, difficulties they had had to surmount in order to run their race.  In the end, they not only finished because they didn’t quit, they won the prize.

The young man knew that his desire was to be just like those men.  He wanted to be a great runner along with those that had gone before him.  His dad had even pumped him up more with the prospect that those great runners would soon be watching him… if he didn’t give up and quit now.  The question he now had to answer was simple: “Do I want to give up on what I know I was made to do?”

Although this is an obviously simplistic rendering, it does help us connect with the author’s purpose in Hebrews.  In order to receive the reward one must endure discipline patiently, never lose sight of the goal, and press on toward that prize.  The journey or the race must be run all the way to the finish line… not simply stopped short of the goal-line.  Like the Hebrews’ audience, we too are in danger of becoming tired and worn out.  In our busy lives, we are prone to question the practicality of our faith, especially when we cannot always see the payoff.  We find ourselves at a spiritual stand-still.  “Strangely, what creates the fatigue is not simply that the Christian life is countercultural.  What creates the fatigue, rather, is living this way over the long haul when there isn’t a whit of evidence that it makes any difference.”[78]

However, like the audience of Hebrews, we are called to remember the story of God lived out in faith by His people.  We are to stand on the testimony of those who have run their part of the race well and we are to finish the race they began.  Furthermore, Jesus has gone before us as a model of faithfulness and the enabler of our faith.  He has shown us the way and has empowered us to persevere because he too endured!  It is for this reason that we are encouraged.  We have a high priest who is able to relate with us and who sits at the right hand of God.  He has already entered the rest of God, to which we have been called.  It is because of this fact that we can boldly enter into the presence of God, for we have been disciplined as sons.  We have been called His children and are even now receiving an unshakable kingdom that will never fade.

We too have come to the city of God, Mount Zion, where the angels sing and the great assembly join together in the presence of the living God, a consuming fire.  He will judge and destroy that which is not of Him.  Only those things that are of God will remain.  Nothing of this world or in our lives will remain apart from God.  We are either investing in our own kingdom, which will not last, or we are contributing to the kingdom of God, which will endure.

So now, the past faithful are in the stands watching the race, watching us.  They want to see the end of the race, to see the outcome of our lives as the Church.  The question we must ask ourselves is: “Will we forsake our inheritance for simple, earthly pleasures that only last for a short time?”  Or, will we continue to press on, press forward for the hope and the future that is even now coming into reality?

 

Works Cited

Attridge, Harold W. “Introduction.” In Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible), 1-13. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1989.

Bird, Michael F. “Zion Symbolism in Hebrews: Hebrews 12:18-24 as a Hermeneutical Key to

the Epistle.” European Journal of Theology 17, no. 2 (October 2008): 172-173. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2009).

Borchert, Gerald L. “A superior book: Hebrews.” Review & Expositor 82, no. 3 (Sum 1985):

319-322. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2009).

Bruce, Frederick Fyvie. The Epistle to the Hebrews (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990.

Exell, H. D. M. &, and Joseph S. Spence. “The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews.” In The Pulpit Commentary (Volume 21), i-xxi. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1950.

Gray, C Patrick. “Going outside the camp: the sociological function of the Levitical critique in

the Epistle to the Hebrews.” Journal of Biblical Literature 122, no. 2 (Sum 2003): 383-387. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2009).

Hagner, Donald A. Encountering the Book of Hebrews: An Exposition. Michigan: Baker, 2002.

Hamm, Dennis. “Faith in the epistle to the Hebrews: The Jesus factor.” Catholic Biblical

Quarterly 52, no. 2 (April 1990): 270. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2009).

Isaacs, Marie E. “Priesthood and the Epistle to the Hebrews.” Heythrop Journal 38, no. 1

(January 1997): 51. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2009).

Jones, Peter Rhea. “A superior life: Hebrews 12:3-13:25.” Review & Expositor 82, no. 3 (Sum

1985): 391-405. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2009).

Lane, William L. Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 47a, Hebrews 1-8. Waco, TX: Thomas Nelson, 1991.

Long, Thomas G. “What cloud? what witnesses?: a preacher’s exegesis of Hebrews 12:1-2.”

Word & World 28, no. 4 (Fall 2008): 349-357. ATLA Religion Database with

ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2009).

Morris, Leon. “Hebrews.” In Hebrews through Revelation, 3-158. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1982.

NASB Zondervan Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999.

Oberholtzer, Thomas Kem. “Failure to heed His speaking in Hebrews 12:25-29.” Bibliotheca

Sacra Jan 1989 (January 1, 1989): Christian Periodical Index, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2009).

Still, Todd D. “Christos as “Pistos”: The Faith(fulness) of Jesus in the Epistle to the Hebrews.”

Catholic Biblical Quarterly 69, no. 4 (October 2007): 746-755. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2009).

The New Interpreter’s Bible: Hebrews – Revelation (Volume 12). New York: Abingdon Press,

1998.

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version With the Apocrypha. New York: Abingdon Press, 2003.

Weiss, Herold. “Sabbatismos in the Epistle to the Hebrews.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 58, no.

4 (October 1996): 674. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2009).

Wigram, George V. The Word Study Concordance: A Modern, Improved, and Enlarged Version of both The Englishman’s Greek Concordance and The New Englishman’s Greek Concordance … index, and the cross-reference headings. Wheaton, Illinois and Pasadena, California: William Carey Library, 1978.

Winter, Ralph D.. The Word Study New Testament: Containing the numbering system to the Word Study Concordance and the key number index to standard reference works : based on the Authorized Version of the Holy Bible. Wheaton, Illinois and Pasadena, California: William Carey Library, 1978.

 


[1] The Greek apotitheemi can mean “cast off” or “lay aside”. The “lay aside” translation is used in the NIV and

NRSV.  However, given the strong warning from the author, stronger language for exhortation is appropriate.

George V. Wigram. The Word Study Concordance. (Pasadena, California: William Carey Library, 1978), 78.

[2] The NRSV translates “clings so closely”. The NIV and NASB translate “entangles” which is a much more vivid picture given the race metaphor that follows.

[3] Both NIV and NRSV use “perseverance” to translate hupomonee. Hupomonee is also often translated as

“patience.” George V. Wigram. The Word Study Concordance. (Pasadena, California: William Carey Library,

1978), 779. For this reason, my translation incorporates both aspects to incorporate a more holistic understanding.

[4] The NRSV, NIV, and NASB translate agōn to mean “race”. This word can also be taken to mean a great conflict or

battle in which one “fights”. Adding “embattled” gives a sense of the great conflict of this race littered with many

obstacles. George V. Wigram. The Word Study Concordance. (Pasadena, California: William Carey Library, 1978),

10.

[5] NIV translates “marked out for” instead of “set before”.

[6] NIV and NASB have “author” which is sufficient for translation. However, to capture the continuing motif of sojourners, “pioneer” resonates with this dynamic, making it more applicable to the context as the NRSV reads. Dennis Hamm writes, “But archegos is open to a further meaning that resonates even more actively with the racing image of the context, ‘leader’ (as in 2:10). Here going before us believers, Jesus is leader in the sense of forerunner (cf. prodromos of 6:20). . . The titles of v 2, then, speak of Jesus both as model and enabler of faith” (12).

[7] NIV employs “scorning its shame.”  NASB uses “despising the shame.”  NRSV reads “disregarding its shame” which has a clearer sense of Jesus’ faithful obedience in His call and mission despite the horrendous shame, abuse, and humiliation of the cross. He would not be deterred though He knew the ultimate cost.

[8] NIV and NRSV both use “your” to clarify whose blood.  This simply makes the sentence a little more clear.

[9] NRSV takes liberty to translate “sons” as “children” for inclusive purposes.  This is not wrong, but the connection between Jesus’ Son-ship and our “son-ship” must be maintained.

[10] NASB uses “scourges” as compared to NIV’s “punishes” and NRSV’s “chastises.”  “Scourges” maintains the heavy-handed suffering that is being felt by the community.  The heavy-handed suffering would then take on the connotation of heavy-handed discipline, albeit in love.

[11] NIV translation.  Both NRSV and NASB have similar renderings, however, I found NIV to be clearest in its communication.

[12] NIV translates “harvest of righteousness and peace”.  Although this is in essence correct, these concepts are not separate but entailed in one another.  Righteousness is peaceful relationship or right-relatedness.  Therefore, NASB and NRSV seem to be correct in their rendering.

[13] NIV and NRSV both use the pronoun “your” to indicate individual’s hands and feet.  However, the sense of the passage is for community struggling together that all may receive the reward.  Therefore, it makes more sense that they are encouraged to lift one another up.  Or, as Heb. 5:12 states, “. . . though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.”  Thomas Kem Oberholtzer writes, “The readers were called to exercise mutual care, concern, and encouragement for one another in view of the discipline all believers experience.  The theme of care and encouragement is interwoven in previous warnings (3:13; 6:9-12; 10:19-25)” (68).

[14][14] Again, this should be understood as a collective “your” and not addressed to an individual.

[15] NIV renders “may not be disabled.”  However, to better maintain consistency with the racing theme, NRSV and NASB both have “may not be put out of joint.”

[16] NIV and NASB use “all men.” However, to be more inclusive NRSV’s rendering of “everyone” is appropriate.

[17] The connotation may be sexual as the NIV suggests. However, the story of Esau does not hold any sexual connotations but rather forfeiting one’s inheritance for quick pleasure, which can take on many forms. Since it is difficult to know exactly the situation of the audience, leaving out the sexual connotation helps us to better understand the full implications of the author’s warning, which is opposing any type of apostasy from the audience.

[18] “For” is not included in the NIV or NRSV. But, this word helps to connect the previous thought of v. 16 on why the audience should not be like Esau.

[19] NRSV reads “something”. The reading of “mountain” is appropriate given the context of Moses and the first covenant which was given on Mount Sinai under these circumstances. Also, the context of comparing the contemporary audience with the wilderness generation makes this image fitting.

[20] NRSV translation used for clarity purposes.

[21] Both NIV and NRSV use words that indicate “joyful” or “festal” gatherings of the multitude angels.

[22] NASB employs “church” which is not used in NRSV or NIV. However, both assembly and church can be used interchangeably in this instance.

[23]NRSV and NASB rendering.  NIV reads “whose names are written in heaven.”

[24] NIV and NRSV translation.

[25] NRSV translation better indicates the present-future reality of the kingdom toward which these people are journeying.

[26] Dennis Hamm. “Faith in the epistle to the Hebrews: The Jesus factor.” (CBQ 52, no. 2 April 1990), 14.

[27] Thomas Kem Oberholtzer. “Failure to heed His speaking in Hebrews 12:25-29.” (Bibliotheca

Sacra Jan 1989 January 1, 1989), 66.

[28] Dennis Hamm. “Faith in the epistle to the Hebrews: The Jesus factor.” (CBQ 52, no. 2 April 1990), 7.

[29] Dennis Hamm. “Faith in the epistle to the Hebrews: The Jesus factor.” (CBQ 52, no. 2 April 1990), 8.

[30] Harold W. Attridge. In Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible), (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1989), 9-10.

[31] Frederick Fyvie Bruce. The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

Company, 1990), 10.

[32] Ibid, 10.

[33] Frederick Fyvie Bruce. The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

Company, 1990), 11.

[34] Ibid, 13.

[35] Ibid, 13.

[36] Harold W. Attridge. In Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible), (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1989), 10. The Pulpit Commentary, xviii.

[37] Frederick Fyvie Bruce. The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

Company, 1990), 13-14.

[38] Ibid, 14.

[39] Frederick Fyvie Bruce. The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

Company, 1990), 12.

[40] Ibid, 12.

[41] Ibid, 21.

[42] Frederick Fyvie Bruce. The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

Company, 1990), 21-22. Exell, H. D. M. &, and Joseph S. Spence. “The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews.” (TPC 21

Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1950), i-ii.

[43] H. D. M. Exell &, and Joseph S. Spence. “The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews.” (TPC 21 Grand

Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1950), ii.

[44] Gerald L. Borchert “A Superior Book: Hebrews.” (Review & Expositor 82, no. 3 Sum 1985), 321. The New Interpreter’s Bible: Hebrews – Revelation. (NIB 12 New York: Abingdon Press, 1998), 6.

[45] Leon Morris. “Hebrews.” In Hebrews through Revelation, (EBC Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1982), 6.

[46] H. D. M. Exell &, and Joseph S. Spence. “The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews.” (TPC 21 Grand

Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1950), xii.

[47] Frederick Fyvie Bruce. The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

Company, 1990), 15.

[48] H. D. M. Exell &, and Joseph S. Spence. “The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews.” (TPC 21 Grand

Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1950), xii.

[49] H. D. M. Exell &, and Joseph S. Spence. “The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews.” (TPC 21 Grand

Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1950), xiii.

[50] Ibid, xiii.

[51] Frederick Fyvie Bruce. The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

Company, 1990), 16.

[52] Leon Morris. “Hebrews.” In Hebrews through Revelation, (EBC Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1982), 6.

[53] Frederick Fyvie Bruce. The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

Company, 1990), 17.

[54] Gerald L. Borchert “A superior book: Hebrews.” (Review & Expositor 82, no. 3 Sum 1985), 321.

[55] Leon Morris. “Hebrews.” In Hebrews through Revelation, (EBC Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1982), 6.

[56] Ibid, 6.

[57] Ibid, 6.

[58] Ibid, 6-7.

[59] Ibid, 7.

[60] Frederick Fyvie Bruce. The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

Company, 1990), 19.

[61] Ibid, 19.

[62] Frederick Fyvie Bruce. The Epistle to the Hebrews (NICNT Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

Company, 1990), 20.

[63]Donald A. Hagner.  Encountering the Book of Hebrews: An Exposition.  (Michigan: Baker Press, 2002), 23.

[64] The New Interpreter’s Bible: Hebrews – Revelation. (NIB 12 New York: Abingdon Press, 1998), 8.

[65] Ibid, 8. Donald A. Hagner.  Encountering the Book of Hebrews: An Exposition.  (Michigan: Baker Press, 2002), 23.

[66] Leon Morris. “Hebrews.” In Hebrews through Revelation, (EBC Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1982), 4.

[67] Leon Morris. “Hebrews.” In Hebrews through Revelation, (EBC Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1982), 4.

[68] Ibid, 4.

[69] Harold W. Atrridge. In Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible), (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1989), 12.

[70] Leon Morris. “Hebrews.” In Hebrews through Revelation, (EBC Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1982), 5.

[71] Thomas G. Long. “What cloud? What witnesses?: A Preacher’s Exegesis of Hebrews 12:1-2.”

(Word & World 28, no. 4 Fall 2008), 351.

[72] Ibid, 351.

[73] Thomas G. Long. “What cloud? What witnesses?: A Preacher’s Exegesis of Hebrews 12:1-2.”

(Word & World 28, no. 4 Fall 2008), 353.

[74] Peter Rhea Jones. “A Superior Life: Hebrews 12:3-13:25.” (Review & Expositor 82, no. 3 Sum

1985), 391.

[75] Todd D. Still. “Christos as “Pistos”: The Faith(fulness) of Jesus in the Epistle to the Hebrews.”

(CBQ  69, no. 4 October 2007), 748.

[76] William L. Lane. Word Biblical Commentary 47a, Hebrews 1-8. (Waco, TX: Thomas Nelson,

1991), 405.

[77] Herold Wiess.”Sabbatismos in the Epistle to the Hebrews.” (CBQ 58, no.

4 October 1996), 6.

[78] Thomas G. Long. “What cloud? What witnesses?: A Preacher’s Exegesis of Hebrews 12:1-2.”

(Word & World 28, no. 4 Fall 2008), 352.

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